Part 2 | The Pontiac GTO | 1963 – Ten Years of Thunder

Part 2 | The Pontiac GTO | 1963 – Ten Years of Thunder

I have selected the top ten from the era –  mid 1963 to end 1973. The choice is based on my heartfelt memories of the times … and some may be a surprise… read on.

 2nd Place

In our list of early performance cars

Pontiac GTO PDM Clark

THE PONTIAC GTO

You Be The Judge

BUT FIRST SOME BACKGROUND…

Pontiac GTO vs Ferrari GTO… it’s March 1964 and in the USA motoring enthusiasts, scribes and many in the industry are in shock, reacting to a Road Test published by a then not too well-known motoring magazine. Most are in a debate as to how GM’s Pontiac could have the cheek to associate a cumbersome piece of American iron with the lithe grace and sophistication of a racing Ferrari. This was generally considered to be Automotive heresy, filled in some quarters with genuine indignation. Those self-righteous amongst the critics however, did not realise or had forgotten that the debate had been done and dusted a year before…in fact on the 16th of February 1963 at the Daytona Motor Speedway and the American Challenge Cup. On that day a saloon car, complete with its rear mounted transaxle and independent rear suspension won the 250 mile race…and here is the rub…7 and 8 laps ahead of two Ferrari GTO’s driven by Fireball Roberts and David Piper respectively. The car also took out two prototype Corvettes, finishing over 5 miles ahead of the car which came second driven by AJ Foyt and three laps ahead of the ‘Vette entered by Mickey Thompson…the two Corvettes powered by Chevy’s new Mystery 427’s, the precursor to the staggered valve “Rat” Big Block. Even more telling, is that all this happened on a day with much of the running on a damp or wet track

 

The car??…A 421 cubic inch Pontiac Tempest. nicknamed the ‘Thundering Bastard’ by one scribe where his headline read  “The day a Super Duty Pontiac destroyed the world’s best sports cars”

Whilst writing this story and talking about this incident with a knowledgeable motoring friend who has Ferrari leanings…his response was a dismissive ‘no way, not possible’… So I went in search of more info than my peripheral knowledge would allow at the time and found all the detail needed to cover any doubt on the subject, the following pic does that fairly emphatically

2. Start TEMPEST on Pole Pontiac GTO PDM Clark

At first glance this could be mistaken for the Pace Car running with the field…Not so…that’s the 1963 Pontiac Tempest Le Mans on Pole. Then have a look at the rest…Corvettes, Cobras, E Types and Ferrari GTO’s

This event took place a month after GM is supposedly in lockdown on the sporty stuff, most notably terminating motor sport activities through the Donner declaration of January that year…which included engine size limits and restrictions on GM brand activity in the ‘fast sporty or loud’ markets. This was one of the last factory- backed GM runs in motor racing before the lockdown became effective. As a result, the car disappeared from the radar after one further event in which there was a DNF due to engine failure. What we do know is that the message passed to car people was emphatic …not only did this ‘tank’ dust the Ferraris, Lightweight E Types  and Cobras on that day but so intrigued were a watching Mercedes that the car was supposedly bought and found its way to Germany to be stripped and analysed…obviously this machine had hit a nerve.

There were many ‘yes butts’ defending the established racers…the race being run on an oval track was the one explanation…there were none that made sense. This was not a NASCAR racer anyway but a ‘once off’ track-car, based on successful ¼ mile Drag cars & built specifically for road course racing.. The Tempest was also a ‘barn door’  saloon car with the aero of a brick, taking on slippery sports cars on that oval track. There was no need to find excuses, Pontiac had laid down a marker before ending their race programme, these were folk who knew what they doing, the classic 421 V8 producing in excess of 520 Bhp.

Pontiac GTO vs Ferrari GTO…why not indeed!   

3. Tempest Taking a GTO cropped

 HERE THE TEMPEST IS LAPPING THE DAVID PIPER GTO FOR THE FIRST TIME…THE PONTIAC WAS TO DO THIS ANOTHER SEVEN TIMES TO FINISH 8 LAPS AHEAD OF THE ITALIAN

4. 1963 Thundering Bastard

“THUNDERING BASTARD”  ONE HAS TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE LOOKS OF BEMUSEMENT

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Fast forward to later that year and a whole bunch of things are changing on the Tempest / Le Mans platform. In contrast to the story on the Lotus Cortina where advances in monocoque or ‘unibody’ body construction were being implemented effectively, here we strangely had exactly the opposite. The very advanced unibody design of the ‘60 t0 ’63 Compacts in the GM range were taking a step back to older tech.

John De Lorean, Pontiac Chief Engineer & the man behind the rather unique design of the earlier Tempest has his first back to the future experience where the Tempest undergoes a significant mechanical retrofit for the ’64 year model. Gaining three inches in wheelbase, losing both the rear mounted transaxle and independent rear suspension as well as reverting to a solid rear axle and ladder chassis to hold it all together. The new Tempest had moved back in line with the rest of the GM compacts on drivetrain design. In truth this move made sense simply because the unique spec of the ’63 and earlier models was becoming expensive & not translating into marketable benefits as a road car. That was the downside…the future upside was that the mechanicals now mirrored that of the larger Pontiac Catalina, resulting in component interchangeability…and we know what that means to an Engineer.

We have covered much of the background to the GM Muscle car history in “No Option but to option” published in the Feb 2017 issue of the Blog as well as the intro to this Ten Years of thunder piece but I consider it worth repeating in part.

The Donner dictates had pulled the plug on a Pontiac racing roller coaster but not the enthusiasm of the engineers. It was a matter of time before that energy had to be expended somewhere… but company politics under the new rules had handed power back to the super conservatives. Many of these were in key positions …being involved in performance related stuff was now risky.

In earlier tales we covered the fact that Ford were in the throes of doing the exact opposite and enthusiastically announcing their intentions. The Blue Oval’s actions launched just three months after GM went into sleep mode. The buzz in Detroit was that something big was coming from Ford and news of the Mustang filtered into the motor business well before its arrival. By contrast at Pontiac, DeLorean found himself in the midst of this restrictive policy… his hands tied…or were they?. Being brutally honest, if there was any motor company needing a swift kick in the butt to get with the times…it was GM. Key players in the business understood that and thankfully, true “car guys” like De Lorean carried with them an innate passion for painting their own canvass…and… being in influential positions soon found ways to circumvent the corporate restrictions. In De Loren’s case he was to team up with another non-conformist in Jim Wangers, the Pontiac marketing guru… both found running against the wind a challenge… As often happens, clandestine off-the-wall projects can be initiated and kept alive if there is that broader conspiracy. The conspiracy here was premeditated and had momentous consequences. Wangers talking to DeLorean indicating that with GM out of formal racing… and as crude as the strategy sounded… it made sense now taking racing to the streets. This union resulted in breaking every rule in the book… to create the GTO ….

Firstly, the Pontiac men, being experienced racers, were blessed with competent engineers. With the monstrous Catalina having an engine option which included a 389 cubic inch “tri-power” (triple twin choke carb) package, De Lorean and his Team now figured it would do a stellar job in the midsize Tempest Le Mans….and so a prototype was cobbled together. (the max 330 cubic inch GM rule for ‘compacts’ smashed).

5. Tri Power 389

389 TRI-POWER V8   FINDING A NEW HOME IN THE NEW TEMPEST LE MANS TO MAKE THE GTO.  

At this point, the perpetrator of an act of treason needs to have support at higher level in order to a) survive the first wave of exposure and b) have any hope of proceeding the ‘skunk works’ project…At Pontiac there was that strategically placed support, Elliot ‘Pete’ Estes the divisional Pontiac General Manager, a competent engineer himself, provided the back-up to keep the project alive.

All involved in the programme under DeLorean were sworn to secrecy as to what was really going on* and this was hard to do in practical terms simply because final testing of the car was conducted at Milford the GM test facility, which harboured all the GM brands. At one stage an Oldsmobile engineer spotted the test GTO having altogether better acceleration than was proper… and called it…only to be told that it was ‘experimental gearing’. A close shave… but the Pontiac engineer concerned did have a few sleepless nights, it was just that necessary to keep a lid on the detail of what was happening.

6. GM Milford proving_grounds

THE 16SQ KM   GM MILFORD MICHIGAN PROVING GROUNDS

* In Detroit, the product engineering, development and testing by Motor Companies was carried out on all manner of tech stuff.. This work being applied in cars running with components covering every imaginable mechanical part or combination of parts. In many cases these were not necessarily aligned to a defined production outcome but rather to gather data for future applications…As crazy as it sounds, this environment allowed the build of some wild prototypes to be used by senior engineering staff as daily runners. There was a unique culture in the city seen nowhere else in the Auto world. Woodward avenue in Detroit is known to have been the meeting place for Ford, GM and Chrysler test and experimental cars where engineers went at it burning rubber in a code of competitive involvement that was quite remarkable. The GTO prototype was such a car and a fair bet that it made it to Woodward avenue probably piloted by Wangers.  The car was used by De Lorean as a daily driver and passed amongst many of the senior staff…masquerading in plain sight as it were. The problem was that in a Milford environment, folk could determine when things were getting serious… with formal GM test programmes in place for production approval. Also, please appreciate that things were extremely competitive between the various GM brands, all ‘smarting’ as a result of the Donner rules. At this stage of the programme, had any of the other brands found out what was really happening at Pontiac, it would likely have destroyed the project.

7. Woodward Avenue 60s sign

A Typical 60’s Pic of North Woodward Avenue – Cars, Road Houses, Revs and Rubber

With De Lorean and Wangers the Co-Conspirators, we have Estes bearing the brunt of any potential fallout, despite a significant risk to his career. He now had to take the project further with activities becoming known to some of the conservatives. He managed it and despite being told that the project would be unsuccessful and deeply frowned upon, ordered the build of 5000 units. At the risk of repeating some of the history we need to understand that the only reason the project could go into a production phase was that the “GTO” version of the Tempest le Mans (the 389 V8 and other mechanical bits) would be listed as a dealer option and not a standard production model. That did not mean that the dealer would fit the parts but left the door open to bend the rules. RPO 382 would allow the big engine to be fitted along with the other go faster bits like positraction differentials, ‘short’ final drives (3.9:1) close ratio gearboxes, wide oval tyres and metallic brake linings… and get this done under the option system at the factory. This was a convoluted way of doing things and sailed very close to the wind in terms what was allowed…in a nutshell this move set the precedent and was ultimately the modus operandi used by all GM brands in the task of building Muscle cars thereafter.

In this case it actually took four to tango… the three men already mentioned… and we had an outsider involved as well…Royal Pontiac, a dealer down the road who just happened to specialise in racing and hot Pontiacs. The contribution that this dealer made to the Pontiac go faster business was substantial, the operation having almost a cult following nationwide amongst young enthusiasts. ‘Royal’ had support and business involvement from Wangers who, in addition to his Pontiac Job, moonlighted as an accomplished racer and had won National drag racing championships driving Pontiacs.

ROYAL PONTIAC THE HOME OF PONTIAC RACING IN THE 60’s

We now get the picture of the type of special people involved in this caper and at about this time De Lorean came up with the ‘GTO’ moniker for the new beast, an absolute masterstroke.

The ‘smoke and mirrors’ strategy extended to ensuring that the base GTO spec was fairly benign, with the performance items noted in the option listing making it a tarmac ripper. ….So…The GTO was not a single spec production model but a vehicle which could be ordered to suit the needs of each prospective owner. Production commenced in late 1963 and all 5000 units were sold in various spec levels before the end of the year. Prior to any real marketing strategy being played out, however, negative publicity from a Motor Trend road test made things a little difficult. That particular publication had managed to locate one of the ‘benign’ GTOs from a random dealer. By benign I mean the car turned out to be a base model automatic fully equipped with all the soft options, air con, electric seats’ convertible, stock brakes and tall final drive. Motor trend rightly wondered what the fuss was about. There were other non-flattering tests finding their way to press and without a formal performance launch strategy, the GTO could have become just another badge engineered piece of Detroit iron.

At this point one would have to ask how in the world this machine then shot to rock star status overnight. The answer lies in that one name… Jim Wangers…

9. JW-Headshot-GTOcc

MR GTO JIM WANGERS

Google Wangers and you will quickly establish that he is Mr GTO, simply because as the marketing guy in charge he lived the dream from day one. We need again to understand that due to the requirement to stay under the radar, Wangers was not going to be allowed to market the GTO as an all-out performance car capable of trashing the opposition…which in its most potent form and in an environment which allowed competitive advertising, it could do with ease. This called for an alternative strategy… the smoke and mirrors programme was to be further expanded. Given the degree of difficulty involved, one must marvel at what subsequently turned out to be one of the most effective new model introductions in the business.

DeLorean and Wangers realised that better control of potential test vehicles would be needed in order for oddball road tests not to discredit the GTO package…

The subsequent happenings outstripped even the best result they could have imagined. The idea was to prepare a potent iteration of the car in its best option form and run the package in a road test against its namesake Ferrari GTO. He selected a publication called Car and Driver (fledgling at the time) to offer the car for test.
Wangers contacted the editor of C&D Don Sherman, made the suggestion and offered to bring his GTO to any track of his choice to do the comparison test, provided C&D found the Ferrari. Sherman grabbed the opportunity and Daytona Motor Speedway in Florida eventually selected as the venue. Ironically the very spot of the previous Ferrari GTO vs Tempest confrontation

The Pontiac engineers had worked out that in the spec level selected for the test, acceleration would better anything the Ferrari could manage. This acceleration performance alone would overshadow superior performance shown in top speed, brake performance or handling the Ferrari would have…After all, the Ferrari was supposed to do that stuff, it was a road legal fully specced race car.  As it turned out, no suitable Ferrari could be found, so the road test was conducted on the Pontiac GTO alone

At the time, Car and Driver magazine was also looking for traction in the publication realm, this was ultimately going to be a match made in heaven and an upturn in fortunes for both Car and Driver and the hot Pontiac.

Wangers had got the ball rolling, putting together the works orders necessary to get the cars built. Pontiac engineering and Royal Pontiac then tasked with the preparation of two cars for the test…and before we get into the meat of what happened next let’s just have a look at the spec sheet of the test cars quoted in C&D and the resultant performance figures.

Pontiac Tempest GTO.

  • 389 cubic inch Tri Power V8
  • Bobcat high compression spec.**
  • 3.9:1 limited slip final drive.
  • Close ratio Muncie 4 speed gearbox.
  • Metallic brake linings.
  • Manual quick(er) ratio steering box.
  • Quoted gross Bhp 348 @ 4800Rpm **
  • Uprated damper settings
  • Test Weight including test equipment as calculated by C&D 3850Lbs

**The options listing for the test GTO could get a bit confusing because these were a mix of the factory options (RPO 382) with the addition of the BobCat Royal Pontiac engine conversion approved by Pontiac. The base Tri Power 389 produced about 315 Nett installed Bhp (Advertised 348 gross), however, the engine conversion involved revised ‘head gaskets and spark plugs (raised compression), inlet manifold pre heat blocked, modified distributor advance curve, carburettor jet alterations, progressive throttle linkage removed and a Hydraulic lifter rework to allow higher rpm. The engine in this spec forced to run on the then available 102 Octane pump fuel. No final power figure was quoted for the Bobcat but it is generally accepted that the kit would give about 30 -40 bhp along with a measurable improvement in low and mid range engine response. As far as max power is concerned a figure of 350Bhp net as installed would be pretty close to what could be achieved.

In hindsight the fact that no Ferrari could be made available for the test comparison was probably a good thing because the resultant acceleration figures on their own created enough of a stir in the car world to get petrolheads to do a double-take…in rude modern parlance ‘WTF’ was exactly the reaction by all.

  • 0-60Mph        4.6 sec
  • 0-100Mph      11.8 sec
  • S1/4 mile        13.1 sec

General comment on handling and braking were also surprisingly positive. The C&D team being pretty insistent that fitted with the available competition suspension package (not fitted on the test cars) this ‘tank’ would give the Italian GTO a run for its money on a road course.

10. GTO at Daytona 2

CLASSIC PICS  –  DAYTONA CAR & DRIVER TEST MARCH 1964

These figures and comment were a Tour de force and when published achieved two things:   1) massive support for the GTO overnight, Pontiac was “on the Map” and 2) significant backlash from naysayers calling the car tested a ‘ringer’, accusing Pontiac of crooking the books, including using the 421 Cubic inch version of the V8 for the test. The latter simply gave the whole exercise massively more exposure creating much controversy and promoting the cause.

Let’s just dissect the next happenings. Firstly, both DeLorean and Wangers stood firm and, basking in the rave reviews, dealer euphoria and the massive hit the car had made… ignored the detractors. Car and Driver stood by their results and two things happened. Magazines flew off the shelves with Car with Driver having now matured, entering into the big leagues… GTO’s began selling like hot cakes. The impact on the Pontiac brand was immense with sales of all Pontiacs progressively reaching record levels. For Wangers it was job done, the Muscle car was born and the rest really did not matter.

That was in March of 1964…young America was enthralled and Wangers, ever the archetypal marketing man, never missed a trick. In June, another masterstroke… he motivated the then hit number ‘Little GTO’ by Ronnie and the Daytonas riding the west coast sound to further oxygenate the growing wave of support for the ‘Goat’ and Pontiac…

I have chosen this version of the number as it has far better sound quality than those available from ‘Ronnie and the Daytonas’

So much for not being able to advertise the GTO as a tarmac ripper??…More significant however, the GTO embedded Muscle cars into modern American culture. Critically, these happenings were to provide a platform for GM to take on the next challenge…. at exactly that time… ‘It was 1964½’ & the real market shake up arrived in the form of the Mustang…the times they were a changing…the stuffed shirts on the General’s 14th floor had some decisions to make.

12. Pontiac-GTO-RED

1964….AND THIS WOULD BE YOURS FOR JUST $3500 COMPLETE WITH CLOSE RATIO BOX AND 350Bhp.

The Fallout

Incredible as it seems, Estes got a dressing down as the senior man in the activity and had to weather the storm particularly in the early part of the project prior to the breakout success. At that point I can assure you from personal *experience that embarrassing the establishment with a successful result does not necessarily result in a positive career move. The outcome of the GTO saga was not only a successful sales boon to the GTO but a massive boost to the Pontiac brand. Pontiac moved into a comfortable third sales spot behind Chevrolet and Ford…so the positive fallout was significant. In this particular case, however, the resultant market shift with performance cars moving front and centre in the new world, remained a hot potato for the GM conservatives…they never really got over it. Despite things misgivings our “rebels” had made enough of an impact to move up the ladder …Estes to head up Chevrolet and DeLorean Pontiac.

The spectacular success of the project forced the hand of the Execs and the 330 cubic inch max engine rule for Compacts quickly changed to 400…opening the door for Chevrolet, Buick and Oldsmobile to get involved.

The Technical Truth and an Important lesson to us Engineers.

So lets bring some common sense into the argument on the veracity of those performance figures. I have mentioned before somewhere in these writings that the Power to weight ratio of a car (particularly in times gone by before Monstrous Boosted Horsepower came along) can be used very effectively to gauge S ¼ mile times. For example, a figure of around 9.5 lbs per brake horsepower (assuming reasonable traction), will net figures around the 13 second mark. The test weight of the GTO was quoted at 3850Lbs and ran a 13.1… this calc. gives you a flywheel horsepower requirement of around 400 bhp as near as makes no difference. How do we know this to be a reasonable summation?… Well… firstly there are a number of sites on the ‘net that have calculators which support the theory, however, in my younger days had researched the idea quite a bit and used the BHP figures of the cars that I had modified, tabulated against actual ¼ mile times. There is no question as to the accuracy of this concept and in fact I carried out one such evaluation on a Can Am Firenza in 1973, which came out to figures very similar to the C&D test of the GTO..  The following may be a touch too detailed for some but this is how I do things and consider this comparison significant in unravelling what really transpired back in 1964.

The Can Am noted before on these writings was our Engineering test car which I had run in the local ¼ mile at the Scribante race track in Port Elizabeth. In order to get the best result, a visit to the Sun rolling road in our service department was carried out to optimise the fuel mixture and spark. The car had completed all the test work for the production cars by this stage and was in need of some TLC. We started the testing at 194 Bhp at the rear wheels (mild misfire) and finished at 209 Bhp. The correction factor to Flywheel horsepower was a figure of approx. 1.37:1 tested on engines previously run on both the Sun machine and engineering engine dyno. This gave the Can Am a figure of just on 286 Bhp* (flywheel) running an otherwise stock 302 using the later ‘radiused exit’ exhaust manifolds. Vehicle weight as run was 1220 kg with fuel and driver. The car ran three 13’s… 13.3, 13.4 and a spot-on flyer with perfect traction off the line 13.05 at 175 kmh. Power to weight ratio ?  9.4 Lbs per BHP.

What is remarkable in this comparison is the fact that the ‘one up’ acceleration times for the Can Am were to all intents and purposes identical to the figures quoted for the GTO by Car and Driver. Aside from the virtually matching ¼ mile times, the 0-100Km/h time of 4.6 sec for the Can Am (tested with a fifth wheel at engineering), was as close to the same 0-60 Mph time for the Goat as makes no difference. The similarity between the GTO figures, with a known quantity in the Can Am, gives credence to the fact that the GTO times were authentic.

FACTORY TEST CAN AM   –   1973    ALDO SCRIBANTE ¼ MILE 13.05 @ 175 KM/h

**There is a belief in some quarters that the DZ302 produced well in excess of the 296 Bhp quoted by Chevrolet. I can understand why folk would think that but that is absolutely not the case. I have seen figures quoted of a minimum of  350 Bhp and as high as 370. With figures like that a Can Am would run a ¼ mile in the 12’s and with the right gearing and rubber break into the 11’s…something not possible with an otherwise stock Can Am 302… 296Bhp as quoted by Chevrolet is an amazingly accurate nett figure for this engine.

SO…there is no question about the theory, you need around 400 bhp to haul a machine weighing nearly 4000 lbs through the strip in 13 seconds… and here is the other side to the picture…we have established that the 389 as fitted to the test car would be producing around 350 bhp net…not nearly enough power to achieve those times…something was fishy in the state of Florida.

At this point the background to the Pontiac range of V8 engines is worth explaining. Unlike the other US  manufacturers who produced distinct ‘Small Block and ‘Big block’ versions of their V8 engines, Pontiac chose to run a single basic engine to cover the range. In this instance the Tempest was produced in original form with a 326 cubic inch version of the engine, the larger Catalina a 389 with the top of the range enlarged to 421 cubic inches…all from the same basic engine block design. This explains a few things, firstly the move from the original 326 to the 389 for the GTO was a bolt-in job making the switch to the larger engine a relatively simple engine swap and a minimum cost exercise. Secondly…it also made the fitment of a 421 version of the V8 into the Tempest equally easy…

Two questions need to be answered: 1. What was the true Horsepower of GTO tested and 2. What was the test weight…. These questions can only be answered by establishing the level of intent in preparing the cars for this road test, so we will deal with the second question first.

As part of the Works orders arranged by Wangers to build the cars, he included a request for the removal of all sound insulation material. This shows that the exercise was a well-planned activity. Exactly how much weight was removed in the process would be a guess, however, I can give an estimate. Again, in a similar programme being responsible for building the reinforced bodyshells for Geoff Mortimer’s Chevairs in the 70’s, the removal of all insulation on those cars including underbody bitumen spray worked out at 50Lbs. I will guess the GTO to be around 70Lbs.

The other very significant matter was that with Pontiac cleaning up in competition in the early sixties, their Super Duty (SD) range of 389 and 421 V8’s were the products of those extremely experienced engine men.  The issue of the 421 cubic inch engine in the road test was cleared up in the late 90’s with Wangers acknowledging, as suspected by most, that the car(s) did in fact have the bigger engine fitted for the test. Given these circumstances, it is highly unlikely that if Wangers was going to go to the trouble of removing weight from the cars that he would not utilise the substantial engine expertise available at both Pontiac engineering and Royal Pontiac to include blueprinting the 421. Which probably included the fitting of the available big valve ‘heads. I do not believe engine work went beyond that, simply because turning the engine into a higher rpm revver would have been a dead giveaway…Max Rpm for the test was quoted at a very mild 5600.

So…given the background, this is the specification at which I believe the cars were tested:

  • Blueprinted 421 producing approximately 390 Bhp nett installed.
  • As tested weight approximately 3770 lbs

That spec would result in the times obtained by C&D. We need to remember that a tri-carb GTO running the 389/348Bhp package quoted ex-factory, even with the good gearing spec, would at best run a ¼ over a second slower in a 14.5…!

The critics back in March were dead right… the test cars were ‘Ringers’

So, what do we learn from all this?.  Firstly as engineers we like to make sure everything is ‘black and white’ by checking that all we do makes engineering sense. In a perfect world the best engineered product and sticking to the rules would win every time…but we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world where perception is often more powerful than fact and at some stage in the game and under the right circumstances engineers need to let go and allow magic to be performed by those who manage those perceptions. In the end It is a game of calculated risk and a very fine line. In this particular case that risk was managed by someone who knew the territory…and he took an educated guess at how far he could bend the rules…  Wangers, De Lorean and the team then held their collective breath and won the day.

I suppose the real measurement of whether the ‘right thing’ was done is the assessment of how the car and the associated image it created managed after that…the answer of course is self-evident…the ‘Goat’ today is the benchmark by which we remember the Muscle car era. The result was deservedly spectacular… proving to us that sometimes a little of the “Smoke and Mirrors” helps to get the job done…  You be The Judge.

13. The Judge - Pontiac GTO

THE REAL “JUDGE” FROM 1969.  A REALLY GOOD LOOKING TAKE ON THE GM COMPACT FRAME

The Pontiac GTO continued to be the icon through into the early 70’s prior to the emission and fuel crisis events early in that decade. Probably the most famous of the lot was the ‘Judge’ in 1969 picking up on the increasing irreverence of young society.

Footnote

 I have great respect for John DeLorean and this despite his fall from grace in later years. The De Lorean sports car project was a bridge too far and as a person who never measures others by their failures, I prefer to see the man by the massive contribution he made on the good stuff. He was a brilliant, talented automotive engineer… he made our car world a better place.

Finally I will, as time allows, be putting together a piece on ‘The Magnificents’…that group of GM stalwarts who fought the system in a bid to keep GM product relevant during the dark Donner years.

NEXT UP and 3rd on our list of the best:

THE RENAULT R8 GORDINI   

Every so often something happens in our lives that simply falls into the category of unbelievably, incredibly…amazing. For us tech motor types, the arrival of the 1108cc R8 Gordini rewrote the text on how a small saloon car should behave, that was the amazing part. The unbelievable and incredible part happened as we got to know the 1255 cc version and more significantly how the Renault motor sport team lead by Scamp Porter developed the R8 Gordini… well beyond any similar activities on this machine anywhere else in the world…including its home country France.

Let me take you for a ride …with the phenomenon that is the car but also some of the background to a unique group of motor racing folk who were the core to the fabulous success of this machine.

About the Author:

I have been in the motor industry all my life and despite spending 20 odd years with Datsun/Nissan, remain a GM man at heart.

One Comment

  1. GEOFFREY S-P GOGLE msae Jan 14, 2019 at 6:29 pm - Reply

    WHAT A GREAT BIT OF AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY//–EXTREMELY WELL RESEARCHED AND WELL PRESENTED-BEING AN OLDER HOT RODDER[STREET RACER]//–MY ADMIRATION FOR JOHN De LOREAN GOES ALL THE WAY BACK TO MID 1955 WHEN JOHN AS A YOUNG ENGINEER AT STUDEBAKER-PACKARD STUFFED A BIG [and very heavy]PACKARD352 V8 INTO THE SLEEK RAYMOND LOEWY DESIGNED STUDEBAKER COUPE THAT HAD MORPHED INTO THE BETTER KNOWN HAWK RANGE-AND EFFECTIVEY CREATED THE WORLDS FIRST ”MUSCLE CAR”–ITS 0-60mph time of 8secs and 130 mph top speed was only surpassed by the OPTOMISTIC but highly impressive 160 MPH SPEEDOMETER and equally impressive 6000 rpm TACHOMETER–coupled by S-Ps exclusive TWIN traction rear axle[L.S]that improved traction remarkably not quite enough to stop the massive torque of the packard v8 lighting up the rear tyres like a dragster.WHAT A SHAME THAT A LEGENDARY CAR GUY LIKE JOHN Z De LOREAN had to go out as a common criminal for trying TO SAVE his troubled car enterprise D.M.C// RIP JOHN Z.

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